After twelve years, seven seasons, a cancellation, lost episodes, and a renewal we were finally given closure to the animated Clone Wars series, something that not too long ago seemed like it would never happen. But as the final episode drew to an end those closing minutes gave us everything a Star Wars fan is looking for and solidified The Clone Wars as some of the most important Star Wars storytelling in any medium. Those final images are a powerhouse in emotional storytelling and not only enhance this already massive universe but somehow ground it in ways that the prequels failed. Now, this is no way a column geared at attacking the prequels, a trilogy of movies that have long since been a punchline between many Star Wars fans. We could spend hours discussing Jar Jar, Anakin’s hatred of sand, the more than slightly racist overtones of certain characters (*cough* The Trade Federation *cough*), and just what George Lucas considers to be romantic dialogue. But those closing minutes of The Clone Wars does something that should be almost impossible, it validates the prequels and turns them from punchline to essential.
The Clone Wars, under the leadership of Dave Filoni, has spent seven seasons expanding the history of the prequels. A large part of this is the television medium allows for more stories and extends the time we spend with certain characters, but more importantly, Filoni’s knowledge of this universe and his gift as a storyteller allow these characters to grow and root in your heart. The Clone Wars uses the backbone of the prequels to take what we already know and add more depth to it. Clones troopers become faces and not just red shirts to die on the battlefield. Darth Maul goes from a character created to sell toys to one of Star Wars’ greatest villains. We get to see the impact that the Clone Wars has on the galaxy and how it shapes things to come. Most importantly though, The Clone Wars gives us the Anakin Skywalker we deserve. Say what you will about the prequels but I do think that some of the emotional heavy lifting on Anakin’s turn to the dark side is done by other characters. Ewan McGregor’s speech at the end of Revenge of the Sith packs all of the emotional points that were missing throughout the films. While still impactful it does feel that Obi-Wan is telling us how we should feel opposed to George Lucas showing us. The Clone Wars doesn’t have to worry about that. They show us who Anakin was through tremendous character development and growth that really help drive home the heartbreak in his turn to the dark side. Watch The Clone Wars and then rewatch Obi call out to Anakin as he burns. It hits way harder.
As an audience we knew that these movies would tackle Anakin’s transformation to Darth Vader, that was never hidden from us, but the prequels often failed to show us how truly painful and gut-wrenching that transformation was. I’m not saying that the prequels didn’t convey this but when compared to the achievement of The Clone Wars it certainly seems that there could have been more. Watching those final moments of The Clone Wars as Darth Vader walks through the snowy landscape igniting the lightsaber of his padawan… the emotion hits you like a Death Star explosion. Suddenly everything that happened either in the prequels or in The Clone Wars comes rushing to the forefront and you can’t close the dam quick enough to prevent the tears. This is what we’ve sought in the turn of Anakin Skywalker. We didn’t want to just be shown that he turned to Darth Vader, we wanted to feel. And sure, we get that shot of him in the prequels as the suit is being put together but the “nooooo” quickly shatters the enormity of the moment turning it into a meme. The silence and gravity of Vader walking through a snowy landscape does what the immolation scene did not. It makes it real. It makes it count. It shows the consequences and the heartbreak of the fall.
How though? How is Filoni able to take something we’ve already seen and somehow make it even more impactful? We know that Filoni has never intended to show up George Lucas, his mentor. Filoni has only strived at enhancing the stories that he loves and to follow in the steps of George’s vision. That’s kind of what makes The Clone Wars so incredible. The apprentice becomes the master. Filoni understands Star Wars probably better than anyone on this planet. His work on The Clone Wars, Rebels, and The Mandalorian shows that all things Star Wars should run through him moving forward. There is a future to this franchise and it stems off of The Clone Wars and Rebels and should be under the leadership of Dave Filoni. And centered in this future is Filoni’s master achievement, Ahsoka Tano.
If there were any questions before, these last four episodes of The Clone Wars should be a prime example why Ahsoka could very well be one of the greatest characters in the entire Star Wars Universe. I know for me, she’s a top-three favorite, and Filoni has shaped her narrative in such a way that she has impacted all of Star Wars since. Just think back to one of the best parts of The Rise of Skywalker, when Rey taps into the Force and hears the voices of Jedis past. One of the standouts from that scene was hearing Ahsoka speak directly to Rey. A character who has only lived in the animated series, a phantom apprentice if you will, given a moment to display her importance to the larger Star Wars story. Ahsoka is the driving force of The Clone Wars, she’s what makes Anakin’s fall so painful. Seeing him as a teacher, mentor, and brother to his padawan adds the depth that was missing from his relationship with Padme in the films. A relationship that is made more effective because of Ahsoka as she allows us to see things in Anakin that weren’t present in the films.
As these final four episodes unfold coinciding with Revenge of the Sith, we feel Anakin’s turn looming. We feel Order 66 building like this unstoppable wave. Maul isn’t the only one who knows that the Republic is about to fall. And dispute knowing all that is to come there are new senses of danger and heartbreak that play out like a Greek tragedy. These moments are shrouded in new questions of what could have been. Would Anakin have turned if Ahsoka had reached out and explained to him Sidious’s plan? Would the Jedi Council have allowed Anakin to confront the Chancellor if Ahsoka had spoken of Maul’s knowledge? Is this even fair to put on the shoulders of Ahsoka? Maybe not, but it does show the gravity and importance the character holds within this story. It shows how Filoni crafted a bond between Anakin and his padawan so strong that we’re left questioning if her intervention could have prevented the original trilogy. That’s not a vibe we get from Padme in the films. She is an object of Anakin’s obsession and affection. We know there’s love there, somewhere underneath the crummy dialogue, but the bond with Ahsoka… there’s no denying that. It’s what allows Anakin to grow and mature. It’s what allows us to see what the prequels tell us. It gives us a scene of Darth Vader holding her lightsaber, looking into the sky thinking about what could have been. What he’s responsible for. Something far more impactful than screaming “no” and mentally destroying a med lab.
Before The Clone Wars was given its final thirteen episodes, we saw how the next leg of Ahsoka’s journey played out. We saw her join the Rebellion using a call sign that was a nod to her former master. We watched horrified as she learned the truth of who Darth Vader was in the Jedi temple. Our hearts broke with her as she dueled with Vader to avenge Anakin in one of the more emotionally charged lightsaber duels in all of the franchise. We saw her return as Ahsoka the White after the completion of the war against the Empire bringing hope and more importantly, the promise that her story is not over yet.
These last four episodes help to fill in the blanks but also add new dimensions to the character. Ahsoka is the spoke that the Star Wars wheel spins upon now. Whether it’s the promise of her live-action appearance in the upcoming season of The Mandalorian or how that appearance could be used to catapult a new animated series or maybe it’s Filoni promising fans that despite hearing her voice at the end of Rise of Skywalker it doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s dead. Filoni reminds us that people thought Gandalf died too driving the point home that Ahsoka has quickly transformed into the Gandalf of the Star Wars Universe. We just have to patiently wait for her newest stories to unfold while remembering a wizard is never late. They arrive precisely when they mean to. And just having the promise of more Ahsoka stories is enough for me to feel confident in the future of this universe.
These final episodes of The Clone Wars were tremendous. They were that present underneath the tree that was obscured and waiting to be opened. Filoni took a series, that was already impactful, and fortified its legacy. He gave us some of the best Star Wars storytelling in years. I’d even go as far as to say that I love/enjoyed these last four episodes more than any of the sequel trilogy. They served as a reminder of the power of storytelling in this universe. That moments like “I am your father” or “use the Force Luke” are still there waiting to be discovered. That the storytelling can touch on all aspects of three different trilogies while maintaining its own voice and own direction. These final episodes of The Clone Wars is why I love Star Wars. These final episodes of The Clone Wars has made me appreciate the prequels while also being excited about the future. There is a wealth of stories yet to be explored and while The Clone Wars bids farewell, it leaves a legacy behind that makes it some of the very best of Star Wars while promising that the best has yet to come. To quote Ahsoka, “This is a new day, a new beginning” and I couldn’t be more excited.